Monthly Archives: March 2018

#MarchForOurLives in Hackensack, NJ

#MarchForOurLives in Hackensack, nj

Now that I’ve graduated to my mid/late thirties, I’m more aware than ever that today’s kids are growing up differently than I did. This isn’t going to turn into a, “when I was your age” diatribe because I also understand that I grew up differently than my parents, who came of age during the era of “duck and cover.”

“Can you imagine?” I used to say. “It’s NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON, the world is coming to an end, everybody get under your desk! That’ll do it.” You see, I was used to fire drills – there is a simple logic that applies to a fire in any building. “The building is on fire, so let’s get out of the building.” There’s dozens of reasons a fire could start in a structure and there’s really only one that’s malicious, so a fire drill didn’t exactly strike fear into my heart. But my parents and now kids today face a threat I can scarcely imagine.

#MarchForOurLives in Hackensack, nj

That’s the thing that really struck me about the speeches at the #MarchForOurLives event I attended in Hackensack, New Jersey. When these kids got up to speak -these seniors, juniors and even a freshman in high school came up to the microphone – they all talked a lot about the drills. These kids have grown up in the era of the active shooter drill, the lockdown drill. This is a totally foreign experience to me. When I was a kid all the way through grade school, we’d have random fire drills. The school bell wood ring in a tick-tick-tick emergency fashion and we’d all get up walk out of the classroom, down the hall, out on to the sidewalk and stand around for a while until some administrator waved us back in. That’s it. These children brought me up to speed: an announcement comes over the PA that the school is in lockdown mode and each classroom begins the procedure. They close the door and lock it. They draw all the window shades. They hide the kids in a corner or in a closet. And then they wait. They wait and they wait and they wait. They wait for an all clear because these kids say that they never know if it’s a drill or if it’s the real thing. I guess I didn’t either when it came to fire drills, but school fires are a rare things. You knew it probably wasn’t a fire. Anybody who even casually pays attention to the news knows that anytime a school goes into lockdown, the unspeakable could be happening.

#MarchForOurLives in Hackensack, nj

This isn’t something that these children think about just when a tragedy occurs – this is something they deal with every day.  They have to get up each morning and face their fears – that they could become another story on the news.  One of these young speakers talked about how they didn’t worry about the results of a test because they figured there was a chance they wouldn’t be alive to receive them.  Another joked that all they wanted to worry about at school was test scores, project grades and what the cafeteria was serving for lunch.  And that’s how it should be.

Unfortunately, we all know the truth – that’s now how it is.  But it could be.  You’ve probably heard people saying that this isn’t a gun issue, it’s a mental health issue, but every country has people that are unwell and they don’t have the same gun violence problem we have here in the United States, so that tells me that the problem is guns and we have to fight back.  The best ways to do this are to donate to gun safety groups like Everytown and vote for candidates who support gun control and campaign finance reform because until we get the guns off the streets and the money out of politics, nothing is going to change.

But we can make it happen.  I hope you’ll join this movement and take action today.

Pacific Rim Uprising is the best Transformers movie I’ve ever seen (movie review)

pacific rim uprising

Did you see Pacific Rim? I did. It was… you know, fine – I sound a lot more excited in the review then I am now. But that movie has Idris Elba. He makes everything okay. So I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down and sprinting to my local theater to see Pacific Rim Uprising, yet here we are and I can at least say that this movie will give you exactly what it promises: big robots fighting big monsters.

And unlike any of the Transformers movies, I can actually tell what’s happening and it’s not a confusing mess.

So now that we’ve got that out of the way, if you have any interest in giant monsters, you’ll probably like the second installment in the Pacific Rim series which I assume will go on until we’re all dead or the series becomes unprofitable. That’s not such a bad thing because these movies don’t really try to get heavy; they concentrate on doing what they do best: CGI grudge matches. This second installment does an even better job of keeping the talking parts to a minimum and making sure that they’re not excruciatingly painful. Good performances and somewhat interesting characters help – and I appreciate an attempt to do something interesting with a character – it sure goes a long way in getting this movie to the finish line.

If you’re the kind of person who wonders why inter-dimensional aliens can only transport themselves to our world through a rift they open at the bottom of the ocean and whether or not building giant robots to fight giant monsters would be the best uses of resources in a world ending event and why they can only be piloted by two people who are mentally linked, you should probably not watch these movies. They’re mostly for enjoying the spectacle, but unlike the sadistic Transformers movies, they don’t have contempt for the audience. They’re just fun, filled with wacky fights and decent character work by quality performers. It’s not the sort of movie you can debate or even talk about much, it just is, and what it is is good. I don’t think anyone will write about the Pacific Rim film series at any point when they look back on this period in cinematic history, but if you’re looking for a fun element of spectacle, you should check it out.

Black Panther overcomes traditional plot beats with nuanced characters and intriguing story details

I finally saw Black Panther and of course, no movie exists in a vacuum. I’ve seen all the Marvel movies and have generally enjoyed them (except Age of Ultron) and at this late date, there’s a lot of hype surrounding this newest MCU installment. I did my best to temper expectations and just enjoy the movie for what it is, but fortunately, it turns out that what this movie brings to the table is the perfect balance of what we’ve come to expect from the series and something new.

We’re going into spoilers from here, so you’ve been warned. Read the rest of this entry

Game Night is not a waste of your time (movie review)

game night movie

I hate to hurl a bunch of statistics at you, but I feel that they’re more relevant than usual. Out of 169 critics, 138 gave Game Night a positive review with an average rating of 6.7 out of 10. I think this, while not a ringing endorsement, sets expectations perfectly for the movie it aggregates.

If you’ve seen the trailer, I can understand that you might be filled with trepidation. The premise is so dumb even 80s comedies are blushing, but somehow, they make it work. The plot isn’t airtight and it’s fair to say that its biggest twists don’t exactly make sense, but it’s still fun. This movie tends to run the best jokes into the ground but the cast is so charming I don’t think you’ll mind.

The biggest difference between Game Night and its contemporary peers is that this movie seems to have a script filled with dialogue, setups and payoffs and is just generally trying. Most comedies I’ve seen lately rely heavily on improvisation and star power rather than any sort of attempt at something that smacks of effort.

I think the most important takeaway from Game Night is that Rachel McAdams is fantastic and she should be in every movie forever. The ensemble is strong, but I feel she’s the clear standout.

If you see Game Night, I think you’ll have a fun time at the movies and won’t feel cheated (ironically enough, The House doesn’t play by the rules). I don’t see us looking back on this movie as a comedy classic in ten years, but rather a passable evening at the movies.

Reactions to the winners, losers and snubbed of the 90th Annual Academy Awards (PODCAST)

best-movies-of-2017

I’m back on the What Does It Matter? podcast to react to this year’s Oscar show! You can listen below or download by searching WDIM in your podcast app of choice! You can find WDIM on Facebook and Twitter, too! Drop some review love on Facebook and iTunes!

Read the rest of this entry

Thoroughbreds is a movie entirely built on character development

thoroughbreds-movie

There’s something interesting about a movie that doesn’t rely on plot to push the story forward. When you watch a character study like Thoroughbreds, you get to enjoy a lot of nuance, and that’s become something of a lost art in the multiplex movie going experience.

Relationships, as we all know, are complicated. Whether by personalities, circumstances or happenstance, our perspectives on each other are colored by a multitude of things. How we and the ones around us react to these things is the fiber of what makes Thoroughbreds so much fun to watch. The revelations don’t come from a specific story point necessarily, but rather reactions and choices based on such a story point.

This isn’t an easy movie to talk about without spoiling it. There’s not a lot in the way of surprises or mystery as the movie unfolds at a natural and believable pace. There are certainly times when a few more story details could enhance the narrative, but with this kind of character study, they aren’t necessarily needed. Of this week’s current release calendar, critics and audiences seem to agree that Thoroughbreds is the best of the bunch, but I would go farther to say that it’s a good movie in almost any weekend. Check it out.

Babe Ruth and the 60(+) home run club

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There was this one time Babe Ruth ate hot dogs till he passed out. True story. You know how many hot dogs you need to eat to lose consciousness? Apparently, it’s somewhere between 12 and 18.

Last year as a member of the Florida Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 home runs.  Now that he’s moved to the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium, the dream (and the hope) is that he can punish even more baseballs – which is not a reasonable request, but a fun thing Yankee fans can hope for going into the 2018 season. Hitting a home run is still one of the most exciting and impressive feats in all of sports. Despite the fact of the home run’s arbitrary nature (different pitchers, how far the ball travels doesn’t matter, every field is so different in so many ways from layout to distance from home plate to wall to the height of said wall and so on), we all dig the long ball.

A home run may be a regular occurrence during a baseball season, but the guys who have the chance to put it out of the park every time they come to the plate are special players and the ones who can do it with ferocious regularity are rarer. There are only five major league baseball players to ever hit 60 or more home runs in a single season: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Maris and Babe Ruth . It’s not easy to hit 60 home runs over the course of six months. I get that no one says it is, but it’s such an incredible achievement that I think it’s worth saying. Maris was feeling the pressure to the point where his hair started falling out. Bonds, McGwire and Sosa all used performance enhancing drugs.  And Ruth?  Well, Babe Ruth ate too many hot dogs and drink too much alcohol.

So… Yeah. In case it’s not clear, Babe Ruth was REALLY good at hitting a baseball.

It’s difficult to quantify baseball players against each other, especially when they played during different eras of the game. You’ve got your dead ball era, your live ball era, before and after they lowered the mound by 6 inches, before and after night games and fly across the country, before and after segregation and international players, any time the league expanded, the era of everybody being on speed, of everybody being on steroids, the advent of the personal trainer, the specialization of the bullpen and about a million other things that have changed the game over time.

But of course there is one player who transcends time, and I guess in this case space and even the game itself. You know who I mean, it’s the Babe! George Herman Ruth. This guy could play today and he’d still be a top tier player. Even if he only achieved half of what he did back then in today’s game, he’d still have hit 30 home runs in one year, which is pretty great. There just aren’t a lot of players you can transport to any point in the history of the game and they’d still be a star, and he’s one of the few.

Babe Ruth hit his 60 home runs in 1927.  He was so far ahead of his time that he had more home runs on his own than 12 (TWELVE!) teams had clubbed with their entire roster.  Nobody matched or beat his record until Maris hit 61 homers in 1961.  He beat him by one, and that year, the schedule had been expanded, so Maris played in 8 more games than Ruth had in 1927.  Nobody topped Maris’ mark until 1998, when McGwire hit 70 and Sosa hit 66. Bonds then hit 73 in 2001.  So if you’re keeping score at home, Ruth held the record for 34 years, Maris held it for 40 years and then three players surpassed them both in the space of three years.

Yeah…  that’s not suspicious at all.

mcgwire_milk-ad

McGwire waited to have the glass of milk after he got “home” because he needed the steroids before he got to the plate.

Another quick tidbit:  Sosa, McGwire and Bonds all played in the National League, so the single season home run record in the American League still belongs to Roger Maris.  Because Maris played in eight more games than Ruth, they continued to include Ruth’s record – the idea was to treat them as separate records because of the schedule disparity.  Maris died in 1985 and finally in 1991, Commissioner Fay Vincent’s Committee on Statistical Accuracy essentially decided that a baseball season is a baseball season and proclaimed support for the “The single record thesis,” meaning there is only one record.  I tend to agree given how much the game (and life) has changed between 1927, 1961 and 1998.  There’s no way to quantify it, so there’s no reason to try.

And now here we are in 2018.  The New York Yankees feature two great power hitters in Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, much like they did with Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.  Will Judge (52 home runs in ’17) and/or Stanton (59 home runs in ’17) reach the promised land this year?  Who knows.  But it’ll be fun to watch, and yet, it’ll never be like watching Babe Ruth.  He set the standards for the game and players are still chasing his records 70 years after his death and 91 years since he set his most famous bench mark.  We’ll never see his like again.

And I didn’t even talk about Ruth’s pitching numbers. Spoiler alert: they’re good.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is your new rainy day favorite (movie review)

jumanji-welcome-to-the-jungle

It took me awhile to see this one, but I finally saw Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. It wasn’t a movie I particularly wanted to see, nor would I say that I’m glad I saw it, but I’m not sorry I did. This movie exists in a weird, cozy in between.

My formative years took place during the 1990s, so I saw the original Jumanji way back when. People that are around my age or younger might feel some nostalgia for that movie, but let’s be honest, there’s nothing great about that flick. I think the best thing you can say about it is that it has Robin Williams in it and it was different. (The 1990s were the last days of seeing something on-screen that you’d never seen before, but I digress…) This movie, on the other hand, knows exactly what it is and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, despite it being redundant in some cases, I would say that Welcome to the Jungle does almost everything right. Now that doesn’t mean that this movie is great or that it should even exist, but here we are and I can at least say that it’s an enjoyable experience.

What is there to like? Watching these adults play teenagers is a lot of fun. It’s part of the aforementioned redundancy, but it’s still the best part of the movie. Maybe the most shocking thing about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is its commitment to the characters and their development. Didn’t see that coming. I also liked how it weaved in common video game tropes and quickly explain them for anyone who might not understand the reference.

Look, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t going to set your soul a fire and I can’t imagine it’ll be the sort of thing you need to purchase on the aftermarket so you can treasure it always (“I love [Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson].  I celebrate his entire catalog.”], but if you catch it on cable on a rainy day, I bet you watch the whole thing and have a good time. I wouldn’t say you necessarily need to stop what you’re doing and rush out to catch this as it nears the end of its very impressive theatrical run, but there are certainly worse things out right now that you could see.

Red Sparrow is long on shock and short on engagement (movie review)

They gave me a choice: die or review Red Sparrow. I’m starting to think I should have picked the former.

Did you see Avengers: Age of Ultron? If the answer is no, you’re better off, but on the other hand, the quick montage we get in that movie of Black Widow’s backstory is more interesting and compelling than anything in this movie.

So if my opening joke did not properly set the tone for what follows, consider it now set.

With a 2018 release, Red Sparrow looks shockingly tone deaf in light of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but the book was released in 2013 and it is true regardless of what year it is that misogyny and sexual misconduct are the rule of the land, so that’s not the problem. The issue is that what’s presented here is often illogical and bizarre.

I also think it’s well known that if you dye your hair blonde, you don’t go to the pool the next day because the chlorine will react to the chemicals in your hair and we’ll turn it green. People know that, right? Well, the people who made this movie didn’t know it or didn’t think it mattered.

But I know it.

That’s not killing this movie. The reason Red Sparrow isn’t a good film is at the heart of its boring plot, slow pacing, lack of chemistry between performers, lapses in directorial judgment, Jennifer Lawrence’s wavering accent, the dozen-or-so 3.5 inch floppy disks that are central to the plot even though this movie takes place in current-day and a million other things, including the delightful performance of Mary-Louise Partner, who does not seem to be aware of what movie she is in, but that’s hardly her fault. And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least hint at a scene that happens early on in the film that is so unbelievable that I just assumed it was a dream that could not really be happening in the context of this movie.

But it’s not a dream. No matter how much I want any of Red Sparrow not to be real, IT IS NOT A DREAM.

At 2 hours and 20 minutes, I think you may be begging for one of Red Sparrow’s assassins to put you out of your misery before it’s over. It has a few moments, but it generally chooses shock value over compelling content and offers little else while it slogs along with a plot that is not particularly difficult to follow but not worth the effort. If you’re given the choice of seeing Jumanji again or becoming a sparrow, probably see Jumanji again.

I, Tonya movie review: a performer’s delight with an emphasis on the journey rather than the destination

Movies are, by their very nature, destined to be viewed by a specific audience. For example, you wouldn’t send a room full of kindergarteners to watch Dunkirk. (That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy it anyway, but probably not the intention of the filmmaker.) The thing about a movie like I, Tonya is that the majority of the audience for this movie already knows the key plot points. They essentially know how the story is going to end and while that’s not the only reason you go to see a movie, it is a big part of the experience and the audience anticipates the satisfaction of a well-crafted tale. So how do you do that when the audience knows what happens to the protagonist at the end of the film? The answer is this movie.

There are lots of films about how characters grow and/or change during the course of the story and this is where I, Tonya really succeeds. This movie delivers multiple perspectives in a way we rarely see and does it more successfully then I could have possibly imagined. As this is the case, the emphasis of the movie is on HOW the characters end up where they are at the end of the movie rather than their specific circumstances. I, Tonya is a question of how and why rather than where and when.

Should you take this journey? I would have to say yes. Even general audiences who may not have a strong desire for nuanced character development and even if they know the story points can still find something to enjoy in this movie. I wouldn’t refer to these roles as showy opportunities for actors such as what is afforded to James Franco in The Disaster Artist, but all the performers here not only have a great deal to do but do their jobs well. I, Tonya is the rare opportunity for viewers to make an impression on a character and continuingly reevaluate that impression throughout the course of the film.

2017 was a good year for movies and I certainly didn’t see everything, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a movie better than I, Tonya. It’s got a compelling story but the character arcs and performances really power this movie home. The other quality technical elements (photography, editing, etc) have to take a backseat while the most visible members of a larger team take center stage. This movie gets my highest recommendation.

The last STAR WARS THE LAST JEDI review

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A Star Wars movie isn’t like any other movie – at least not for me, which is why it took me a few months to get my thoughts together. By the time I was just 3 years old, Return of the Jedi had come and gone and the Star Wars franchise was cemented into our popular culture in a way we wouldn’t see again until Harry Potter. Star Wars was IT and for about a million different reasons.

So what makes Star Wars so special? Timing. When it was new, there wasn’t anything like it before and it was the “face that launched a thousand ships.” It gave birth to a new era of science fiction, fantasy, adventure and more. Even Star Trek got hauled out of the attic, dusted off and shoved back out onto the stage. If it wasn’t for this movie, the theatrical landscape would look very different today.

That kinda sounded like an insult…

Anyway, Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi is divisive in a way I don’t fully understand. Some people love it, some people hate it, and I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only one that’s in the middle. Well, not exactly in the middle.

So with all that said, I’m very excited about reviewing Star Wars Episode 8: Chewbacca Goes Vegan. Well, we’ll get to that. Let’s start here:

SPOILERS!!!

spoiler alert Read the rest of this entry

Beauty and the Beast 2017 is worth a watch but doesn’t justify its existence

Remakes. Why does Hollywood make them? The answer is almost always because movie studios are owned by corporations with stockholders and board members and their supposed to turn a profit and nothing turns profit quite as easily as known intellectual property. So, like in all business, the goal is to make money rather than create a quality product. That’s okay, I don’t have any problem with capitalism. What I do have a problem with is remaking a movie that was a perfectly good film in the first place. What’s the point? If you’re not going to do something better or at least different, why even bother? Well, again, that’s an artistic question and we all know that the reason this movie exists is financial. With all that being said, let’s talk about the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast.

SPARED NO EXPENSE!

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John Hammond cast this movie.

When it comes to this movie’s cast, they spared no expense. The list goes on and on: Emma Watson, Ewan Mcgregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad… Was it worth it? Sure, I think so. Everyone turns in a fine performance. I don’t think I would have cast Kevin Kline regardless of how much I love him because I just don’t think he’s right for this particular role, but it’s not like he’s distracting or a deterrent to the movie. That’s more of a matter of taste then a critique.

EXCEPT FOR WHEN THEY DID
This movie has a ton of digital characters, digital camera moves compositing together real actors and digital sets and all sorts of computer gobbledygook. And I gotta to tell you, it doesn’t all look great. I did tend to think that the characters made of objects looked pretty good, but sometimes, the Beast just didn’t look right. I’m not sure if it’s the way they designed him or maybe just his hair, or the fabric simulation, but mostly I think it was just that the rendering of the Beast himself didn’t fit with all of the lighting. He particularly stuck out in the library. This is the Beast at his most video gamey-est.

THE MOVIE AS A WHOLE:
I need to get down to it: yes, this movie is good. Is it great? I don’t think I would go that far. The problem is that this movie does not exist in a vacuum; the original Beauty and the Beast does exist, I have seen it and the first version is the superior production. This new remake shows no restraint; it features ill-advised CGI, uneven pacing, dialogue where none is needed and the new original songs… yeesh. Here, I can tie two points together: the original animated film cut out a song called “To Be Human Again” that they added back to an anniversary DVD release. Once you hear it, you’ll know why they cut it out in the first place. Meanwhile, this live action remake feels as though it inserts new songs because someone at Disney insisted that this movie be 2 hours ong, featuring new songs that could possibly get nominated for best original song at various award shows and because the movie had to add something new while taking zero chances.

If your part of the hardcore Disney audience then chances are you’ve already seen this movie and I’m probably not going to change your mind. If you’re too young for the original then it’s possible you weren’t even aware of the animated version and may have no use for comparisons. Either way, I would say that while this movie is good enough, it’s far from great and it’s certainly not a new addition to the Disney classic catalog of films.

GENERAL GRIPES
There was a point during “Be Our Guest” when I was completely confused – I didn’t know where they were or what was happening… and did the Taj Mahal make an appearance?

The Beast is not compatible with the light in the library and in other moments throughout the film.

I’m sorry, say that again? The Enchantress gave the Beast a book that allows him to travel through space?  (But not time, because that would be ridiculous.  And also make the movie five minutes long.) She has the ability to create this book or at the very least has it and this is what she does with it? That kind of took me out of the movie.

There were a few moments where I expected them to up the visual ante from what we saw in the original and boy does that not happen. There’s just nothing as grand or as exciting as the big wide Ballroom shot from the original in this new dance sequence. There’s just not. I know it’s hard to show us something we’ve never seen before at this point in twenty-first century, but that shot was composed on a computer in the early 90s. Now entire movies are made with computers so I was expecting something but I got nothing.

Ugh, that Beast song. I’m not a fan of the new songs in all their blandness but the Beast’s solo effort has got to be the worst of the bunch.

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